The first signs of melanoma are often very subtle. Because these clues are usually visual in nature, it is very important for everyone to get into a habit of checking their skin for changes and to promptly report anything unusual to a physician. Regular skin cancer screenings performed by a dermatologist can also increase the likelihood of early detection.
Many people find it helpful to think of the acronym “ABCDE” (asymmetry, borders, color, diameter, evolving) when examining their skin for signs of melanoma and determining when it is necessary to seek medical attention. Essentially, a skin lesion or mole should be evaluated by a physician if it displays any of the following characteristics:
- Asymmetry – If an imaginary line were to be drawn through the middle of a mole and the two halves didn’t match, the mole would be asymmetrical.
- Borders – The borders of benign moles are generally even and smooth, while the borders of an early melanoma tend to be scalloped or notched.
- Color – Because most benign moles are uniform in color (usually a single shade of brown) a mole that displays multiple colors, such as different shades of tan, brown, black, red, white or blue, is suspicious.
- Diameter – Most melanomas are larger in diameter than an eraser at the tip of a pencil (approximately one quarter inch).
- Evolving – Benign moles typically don’t change over time; a mole that evolves in terms of shape, size, color, elevation, bleeding, itching or crusting could be a melanoma.
It’s important to keep in mind that sometimes a melanoma will not display any of these traditional warning signs. For instance, certain melanomas can resemble a bruise that doesn’t heal over time, while others appear as small brown or black streaks under a fingernail or toenail. Likewise, it is also possible for a benign mole to have an irregular appearance. This is why professional evaluation is so important.
The multispecialty team of experts in the Cutaneous Oncology Program at Moffitt Cancer Center has extensive experience and highly refined skills in evaluating possible melanoma symptoms and signs and recommending the best course of treatment. Additionally, Moffitt is home to the Donald A. Adam Comprehensive Melanoma Research Center of Excellence, which is widely recognized as one of the leading melanoma programs in Florida. With more than 30 world-renowned researchers investigating and developing new diagnostic and treatment methods, Moffitt continues to lead the way in the prevention and treatment of all types of melanoma.